Tag Archives: Mallika Sherawat

Movie Review: Despite the Gods (2012)

DespiteTheGods3 Stars (out of 4)

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The story behind the Hindi horror flop Hisss is as much about the film that wasn’t made as the film that was. Documentarian Penny Vozniak recorded director Jennifer Lynch during the making of Hisss, resulting in Despite the Gods: an engrossing feature about a filmmaker pushed out of her own movie.

Lynch spent eight months filming Hisss in India, her first time working in the country. When we first see her settling in to her Chennai apartment, she observes that India is loud. Lulls in the concussive sounds of construction work outside her apartment are filled by chatter from the noisy street below. It makes concentration and relaxation difficult, to say the least.

Lynch is accompanied on her trip by her 12-year-old daughter, Sydney, who is the real star of Despite the Gods. Sydney is wise beyond her years, encouraging her mother to stop fretting about her weight and focus on her movie. The fact that Sydney endures this odyssey with a minimum of whining is a testament to her maturity.

Hisss is beset by a number of problems: rain, a jumbled schedule, a union strike that forces the production to move to Kerala. The funny, foul-mouthed Lynch stays positive throughout, insisting that adverse circumstances often result in a better finished product.

Little does Lynch know that she’s being sabotaged from within. The producer who brought her onto the project, Govind Menon, repeatedly tries to take control of the film away from Lynch, under the pretense of serving the greater good. Touting his past directorial experience and familiarity with the way things are done in India, Menon offers to shoot portions of the film himself in order to speed things up. Lynch doesn’t bend, insisting on doing things her way.

Only after shooting ends does Menon finally get control. A note at the end of Despite the Gods reads: “The producers reject Jennifer’s final cut of Hisss. The film is over schedule and over budget. They re-cut it without her. Jennifer has publicly distanced herself from the finished film.”

Having watched Hisss, Menon clearly overestimated his ability as a storyteller. The movie is awful, although the footage Lynch shot actually looks quite good.

One issue with Despite the Gods is that Vozniak is a friend of Menon. He initially brought her onto the set to babysit Sydney, and it was Lynch who invited her to stay and film the documentary. Lynch told Indie Outlook:

There were some incredibly painful moments that were kept in Penny’s cut and other things that didn’t end up in it because producers wouldn’t allow them to be shown. Sometimes I see myself upset onscreen and think, “I was sad because this happened, but nobody will ever get a chance to see it.” And yet, this is Penny’s film, not mine. She made the film that she wanted to make to the best of her ability, and I’m honored to have been seen through her eyes.

Even with an incomplete accounting of events, Menon’s desire to shoot the film himself is obvious. He also takes it upon himself to scold Sydney when Lynch is not around. A confused Sydney seeks out her mother and asks, “Did I do something wrong?”

Besides Menon, the rest of the Indian crew is devoted and professional. The second assistant director, Yogi Dixit, is particularly charming. The caterer, Krishna, fills in as a sound effects artist and on-set masseur.

Hisss star Mallika Sherawat is smart and self-aware. She’s cognizant of the boldness of her career choices in conservative India, and she and Lynch spend much of their downtime discussing social issues.

Lynch explains the theme of her film (originally titled Nagin: The Snake Goddess): “It’s an admiration of sensual, sexual female bravery.” Sherawat wryly replies, “Oh yeah? In India?”

There’s no guarantee that Lynch’s version of Hisss would have been a success. It’s hard to imagine the scene of Sherawat making out with a snake puppet looking anything other than silly, no matter who edited it.

Still, Despite the Gods highlights that Lynch was using her film to make a point about female sexuality, and that aspect was eliminated from the version ultimately released. Maybe someday we’ll get a director’s cut of Hisss. I’m very curious to see it.

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Movie Review: Dirty Politics (2015)

DirtyPoliticsZero Stars (out of 4)

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About three-quarters of the way through the movie, my hands grip my head as if trying to contain an imminent explosion. I scream, “What is happening?!” and tear at my hair. That sums up the entire experience of watching Dirty Politics.

The movie’s problems are immediately apparent, most obviously so in the way the film looks. The camera never stops moving. It doesn’t matter if the movement obscures the faces of the characters who are speaking: camera movement is paramount! The action can be dramatic, such as a crane shot from directly overhead that swoops down to ground level then back up again. It can be more subtle, such as persistent zoom-ins on actors’ faces.

In one shot, the camera rapidly zooms in to closeup and pulls back twice in the span of about three seconds. A judge says, “Court is adjourned,” and the camera pans from the judge up to a clock above his chair, even though there’s no significance to the clock or the time of day. Then the same shot is repeated a few minutes later, again for no reason.

I don’t blame cinematographer Panveer Selvam for this travesty of technique as much as I do director K.C. Bokadia, who also wrote this farce. Bokadia’s vision for Dirty Politics is obviously shaped by a fundamental misunderstanding of how to make movies.

The story opens in the middle of a search for missing dancer-turned-politician Anokhi Devi (Mallika Sherawat). We know this because the characters say the name “Anokhi Devi” about a hundred times in the first ten minutes. Characters are introduced in quick succession without a sense of where they fit into the larger story, and an absence of backstory is keenly felt.

Anokhi Devi’s appearance via flashback more than twenty minutes into the runtime doesn’t really clear things up. Her dancing grabs the attention of political party leader Dinanath (Om Puri). In exchange for sex, Dinanath promises to make her the party’s candidate in the next election. Naturally.

There’s a hullabaloo because a gangster named Mukhtiar (Jackie Shroff) wants the same candidacy. He gets a great introduction from Anokhi Devi’s secretary, Banaram (Rajpal Yadav), who announces his arrival at her house: “He’s Mukhtiar. A well-known goon of our area.”

Dirty Politics is full of hilariously ponderous lines. When Anupam Kher’s character Mishra — who is a CBI officer and a lawyer who’s sixty days away from retirement(!) — presents his case in court, the defense attorney responds: “He is very cleverly trying to make his points strong.” Eloquently said, man who doesn’t realize that he’s describing the very nature of his own job.

One can only imagine how Bokadia managed to rope so many talented actors into this doomed project. In addition to vets like Kher, Shroff, and Puri, Naseeruddin Shah his a role as an activist who steals the movie’s absurd closing scene. Govind Namdeo’s overacting is the height of comedy. Atul Kulkarni and Sushant Singh remind us why they are rarely called upon to play action heroes.

Shah’s character has a daughter whose sole narrative purpose is to be raped in order to blackmail him. There are only three women in the whole movie, and all of them are brutalized: two in order to intimidate their relatives, and Anokhi Devi for aspiring to a more meaningful purpose than that of Dinanath’s mistress.

Puri and Sherawat deserve some modest praise for fumbling through the most awkward sex scenes in cinema history. If Bokadia was counting on sex to sell Dirty Politics, he obviously didn’t watch any footage of his movie as it was being shot.

One can only fathom the sheer terror racing through the mind of editor Prakash Jha as he received each batch of footage. “How am I supposed to make a movie from this?” he asks himself. “There’s nothing to work with!” Hence how we end up with the exact same reaction shot of Jackie Shroff staring at a desk — his jaw muscles twitching — four times in succession.

Bonus: Everything you need to know about the lack of craft that went into making Dirty Politics, in just twelve seconds!

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Movie Review: Hisss (2010)

1 Star (out of 4)

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When a director disowns a movie she spent months filming, you know the finished product must really stink. That’s exactly what American director Jennifer Lynch did, following the release of the Hindi film Hisss.

Lynch claims that producers wrested control of the film away from her during the editing process, ultimately creating a movie that little resembles her vision for the project. The filmmaking process was so trying that a documentary about Lynch’s experience called Despite the Gods is currently making the festival circuit. Now that’s a movie I want to see.

Hisss is ultimately a good-looking version of the type of schlocky, low-budget monster movies regularly shown on the Syfy channel. Compared to any other films, it’s a mess.

It’s not just a mess; it’s messy. By Bollywood standards, Hisss is incredibly gory. Also, compared to standard Bollywood fare, there’s a lot of nudity and explicit sexuality (although a scene showing Mallika Sherawat humping a ten-foot-long snake puppet would be unusual in any type of film).

Hisss’s (not often I get to use the same letter four times consecutively!) premise is that an American man named George (Jeff Douchette) must prevent his death from brain cancer by stealing the immortal essence of a snake goddess, or nagin. In order to lure the nagin, he captures her male cobra mate, played by the aforementioned snake puppet.

The nagin assumes the human form of Mallika Sherawat in order to search for her stolen mate. While in the guise of a seductive and frequently naked woman, the nagin seizes the opportunity to murder some male human rapists and abusers in gruesome fashion. All that’s left of one of her victims are his undigested bones, cellphone, and Pamela Anderson t-shirt.

The strange deaths are investigated by Vinkram (Irrfan Khan), a detective dealing with his wife’s recent miscarriage and a mentally ill mother-in-law. Vinkram’s wife, Maya (Divya Dutta), assists her husband when a lovely, mute, naked woman — the nagin — is brought to the police station. Maya’s ill mother is the only one who sees a connection between the woman and the deaths.

Dutta and Irrfan bear no responsibility for the movie’s failures. Both are solid in the movie’s only compelling storyline, as they cope with the possibility of never becoming parents. Scenes involving Maya’s childlike mother are sometimes awkward but reinforce that Maya and Vinkram are good people.

The other storylines aren’t nearly as interesting. It’s hard to get invested in the nagin’s journey, since she never speaks, and the closest she ever gets any kind of meaningful character development is when she’s molting. The nagin is less of a tortured-soul type of monster like Dr. Jekyll or the wolfman than she is a killing machine. She’s Jaws with a taste for misogynists.

Few acting demands are placed upon Sherawat beyond occasional bouts of wordless howling. Half-naked writhing is her main contribution to the film, and she does an admirable job of it. Her character is just too undeveloped to garner sympathy.

Least sympathetic of all is George. Most of his dull scenes are filmed in a windowless underground room where he electrocutes the snake puppet as part of his plan to attract the nagin. George periodically surfaces to abuse and murder his Indian assistants, who should realize that whatever money he’s offering isn’t worth the risk of being shot by George or eaten by a giant snake.

Given the scenes that made it in to the final cut of Hisss, I’m not sure that Lynch’s version would’ve been a masterpiece. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen it. Regardless, Despite the Gods is bound to be more entertaining than the film that spawned it.

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Movie Review: Tezz (2012)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Watch Tezz without paying full attention, and it probably seems like an entertaining film. But the moment one starts trying to make sense of the plot, Tezz reveals itself as a total mess.

This is unfortunate, because Tezz has many elements of a good movie. Most of the action scenes are really well done. There are some solid performances by veteran actors, especially Boman Irani. But those elements need to be woven together by a solid plot and told in a cinematic way, and in Tezz they just aren’t.

In fact, the more of the plot that is revealed, the less necessary the film seems, especially when the events all stem from the inappropriate and dangerous response of a single man to an easily surmountable problem.

Tezz starts with a flashback to Aakash (Ajay Devgn) — an illegal immigrant — being deported from England to India and separated from his British-Indian wife, Nikita (Kangna Ranaut). In a scuffle with the police, Nikita is hit on the head. She lies on the ground as Aakash is dragged away.

Fast forward four years, and Aakash is back in the U.K. He and two accomplices — Aadil (Zayed Khan) and Megha (Sameera Reddy) — purchase explosives and plant a detonator on a passenger train bound from London to Glasgow. Aakash calls the rail company and demands 10 million Euros from rail director Sanjay (Boman Irani). Aakash explains that  a bomb on the train will detonate if the train’s speed drops below 60 mph.

Yep. Tezz is Speed on a train. (My suggestion for a snappier title: Speed 3: Off the Rails.)

Surely Aakash has a good reason to concoct this deadly plan, right? To avenge the death of his wife at the hands of the British immigration police perhaps? [Warning: spoilers ahead.]

Nope. Nikita is very much alive, and Aakash knows it. As he’s being dragged through the airport, she even tells him she’s pregnant.

For four years, Aakash lives apart from his wife and child, scheming to extort money and “get his life back.” Why didn’t he just ask her to move to India with him? He’s an engineer, so it’s not like he can’t get a good job in India or elsewhere. Even if his extortion scheme works, they won’t be able to live in the U.K.

So, without Aakash’s ill-conceived (if not completely nonsensical) overreaction, there is no movie. That’s probably reason enough to skip Tezz. But if you need more, there are other compelling reasons.

The film lacks transitions between scenes. Once scene ends abruptly and another starts immediately without any notion of how we got from point A to point B.

Anil Kapoor’s character — recently retired Inspector Khanna — suffers the most from this lack of transitions. He’s in the train control center; then he’s at a crime scene; then he’s in a government hearing, all without any regard for how he could possibly cover that much ground in such a short time.

Another problem is the bad CGI effects that animate the train. Devgn said recently that it’s not fair to compare Indian special effects to those made on a Hollywood budget, but most of the action scenes in Tezz are quite good. Money was budgeted for lavish car chases and an actual helicopter, but the filmmakers cheaped out on the speeding train: the one element that needed to look believable.

Need another reason to skip Tezz? How about a racist dance number?

Early in the movie, Aakash’s and Aadil’s escape from the police is interrupted by a dance number (without a transition between scenes, of course). The song “Laila” starts with Mallika Sherawat surrounded by dozens of dancers dressed as Dracula. The Indian dancers eventually change into blackface makeup and afro wigs.

The filmmakers* should be ashamed for including something so pointlessly racist in Tezz. Then again, director Priyadarshan made Khatta Meetha — the most deplorable and sexist film I’ve ever seen — so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

* – According to reports at The Times of India, Priyadarshan didn’t want the item number “Laila” included in the movie on the grounds that it didn’t fit the story (which is true). He was apparently overruled by producer Ratan Jain, though the song may have been removed from some prints lest audiences find it too sexy. I found no mention of concerns about racism in any of the reports.

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Opening October 22: Jhootha Hi Sahi, Rakht Charitra and Hisss

This weekend presents a feast for Bollywood fans, with three new movies opening in the Chicago area. The movie getting the widest release is the romantic comedy Jhootha Hi Sahi, which stars John Abraham as a man who talks a woman out of committing suicide after she mistakenly dials his phone number.

Jhootha Hi Sahi opens on Friday, October 22, 2010 at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.

Both of this weekend’s other new Hindi releases are scheduled to open in the Chicago area only at the Golf Glen 5. First is part one of director Ram Gopal Varma’s two-part biography of the life of Paritala Ravindra: Rakht Charitra. The Golf Glen 5 will carry both the Hindi and Telugu versions of Rakht Charitra.

I’m surprised and disappointed that this weekend’s other new Hindi film, Hisss, wasn’t released in any local theaters besides the Golf Glen 5. The horror movie — which stars Mallika Sherawat as a nagi, a fantastical human-snake deity — is written and directed by David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer Lynch, who directed the oddly compelling Boxing Helena in 1993.

If you need to catch up on some older releases, Aakrosh gets a second week at the South Barrington 30. Anjaana Anjaani — which has earned $827,303 in the U.S. so far — carries over at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 30 and AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago. And Enthiran carries on in its various forms at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, Cantera 30 and Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Telugu movies Brindaavanam and Khaleja at the Golf Glen 5 and Sathyam Cinemas.